************ Sermon on 1 John 5:16 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on Jan 6, 2019
1 John 5:13-17
1 John 5:16
"The Sin that Leads to Death"
Difficult Passages #21
I Certainty in an Uncertain World
A "The only sure thing in life is death and taxes." Most of us have heard this more than once. "The only sure thing in life is death and taxes." The world talks this way. The people of the world talk this way. Because we live in an uncertain world. Because we live in uncertain times. Because we live in an uncertain moral environment. Because we live in an uncertain economy with constant ups and downs. Because we live in an uncertain political climate. Because of all this uncertainty, there is very little the people of the world are certain about.
B "The only sure thing in life is death and taxes." Christians cannot agree with such a statement. We know better than to make such a statement. In an uncertain world filled with uncertain people, we Christians are sure about so much:
-we are sure God created heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them
-we are sure the wages of sin is death
-we are sure God is righteous and loving
-we are sure Jesus was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities
-we are sure Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God
-we are sure everyone who believes in Jesus receives everlasting life
-we are sure someday Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead
Why are we so sure about all of this -- and so much more? Because we find this in God's Word, the Bible; and God's Word is certain and sure, dependable and trustworthy.
C In an uncertain world, the child of God deals with certainties, believes certainties, and declares certainties. And the world hates us for this. It hates that we are certain about so much. It hates that we are certain about what is morally right and wrong. It hates that we say there are certain standards that mankind must live by. It hates we are certain about what is truth and falsehood. It hates we are certain how the universe began and how it will end. It hates we are certain about hell and eternal punishment. It hates we are certain about the definition of marriage. It hates that we say there are absolutes. In a world of doubters and skeptics, God's children are sure.
Let me hold before you the example of Job. Job lived in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He lived way before the coming of Jesus. He lived way before the Bible was written. Yet, listen to what Job is sure about:
(Job 19:25-26) I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. (26) And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God ...Job is sure about Jesus, salvation, the Kingdom, resurrection, eternal life. Job is also sure about God:
(Job 42:2) "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.Remember all the bad things that happened to Job and his family? Yet, Job is absolutely certain about the absolute sovereignty of God.
In Q & A 21, the Catechism asks, "What is true faith?" Listen to the first part of the answer:
True faith is ... a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true.Do you hear that? Christians are sure about what is in the Bible.
D With this in mind, we look at the "Concluding Remarks" of John's letter. The theme of these verses is things we are sure and certain about. John wrote his letter to assure Christians living in the midst of a hostile and uncertain world. This is highlighted by John's repeated use of the word "know." The word "know" is so important to John that he uses it 33 times in 26 verses -- 6 times in our Bible reading:
-(1 Jn 5:13) you may know that you have eternal life
-(1 Jn 5:15) we know that he hears us--whatever we ask
-(1 Jn 5:15) we know that we have what we asked of him
-(1 Jn 5:18) We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin
-(1 Jn 5:20) We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding
-(1 Jn 5:20) we ... know him who is true
Verse 14 uses another word. It uses the word "confidence." Listen to what John writes:
-(1 Jn 5:14) This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
"The only sure thing in life is death and taxes." According to John, this is not the case if you are a Christian. If you are a Christian, there is so much you are sure about. There is so much you are confident about. There is so much that you know.
II Sure About Eternal Life
A We are sure and certain about eternal life. That's the first thing we find in our Bible reading:
(1 Jn 5:13) I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.This is the most important certainty, to know you have eternal life, to be certain you have eternal life, to be sure you have life after this life.
Christians are sure, they can be certain, they have confidence and assurance, about eternal life. They know they have eternal life. Let me read the rest of the Catechism's answer in response to the question, "What is true faith?"
True faith is ... a deep-rooted assurance ... that ... I ... have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation.Or, to use the language of 1 John, those with true faith know they have eternal life.
One of the questions I ask when a child of God is dying: Do you know where you are going? What joy fills my heart when they tell me they know theirs is eternal life. Christians know where they are going after death. Christians know where they are spending eternity. The Christian knows. The Christian is sure. The Christian is certain.
B Do you realize that in Roman Catholic theology nobody can ever know if they're saved, nobody can ever know if they're going to go to heaven, nobody can ever know if theirs is eternal life. Isn't this sad? How sad to live your whole life caught up in a system where you don't know where you are going when you die. Do you remember the struggles of Martin Luther? It made no difference how devout he was, what sacrifices he made, what ceremonies he went through, what prayers he said. Under the Roman Catholic system he just didn't know, he just wasn't sure, he had no certainty about forgiveness, salvation, being right with God, and eternal life.
Over the years I have ministered to former members of a small Reformed denomination. How shocking to discover and hear firsthand that members of this church are exactly like the Roman Catholics -- they also have no surety, no certainty, no confidence, about forgiveness, salvation, being right with God, and eternal life. More than one of them have said to me the words of the father that are recorded in Mark's gospel: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mk 9:24). They are so frustrated and disappointed and overwhelmed by the bad theology of the church they grew up in. Can you imagine being this way on your death bed?
C You can be sure, you can be confident, about eternal life, congregation. But not because you are looking at yourself. Not because your faith is so strong and unshakable. Not because you are so holy and pious. Not because there is anything in you or about you that makes you know yours is eternal life. Go back to what John writes:
(1 Jn 5:13) I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.Who does John write to about the surety of salvation? To those who believe in Jesus. Because of Jesus you can be sure. Only because of Jesus. Because you are looking to Him and depending on Him and not yourself.
III Sure About Answered Prayer
A The second thing we can be sure about is that God hears prayer:
(1 Jn 5:14) This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
We need to see this second certainty in the light of the first certainty. The first certainty is that we have eternal life. Now, as we wait for eternal life in all its fullness, we have things in our life that require prayer. I am talking of needs, problems, struggles, concerns, issues, temptations, sins, illnesses, financial setbacks, and so on. As we wait for eternal life, as we live in the here and now, we can be certain that God hears and answers prayer.
John speaks of "approaching God." The word is a preposition of direction. So it means, "in His direction, toward Him, in His presence." Imagine this: we can go right into the presence of the eternal God.
"This is the confidence," writes John. The root word for "confidence" means "freedom of speech, to speak freely or boldly." Ours is the freedom to go before the Lord on any issue or problem, struggle or concern, temptation or sin. Ours is the freedom to go boldly to the throne of God to seek what we need.
B When we do, we are sure and certain that God hears prayer. "Hear" means more than listening. It means more than knowing the request. We do that with our kids or our spouses sometimes. We listen but we don't really hear because our minds are elsewhere. God hears, God listens, God answers. Hearing is answering for God. That's what John has in mind here.
God hears, God listens, God answers. There is a condition to this: "if we ask anything according to his will" (1 Jn 5:14). If we ask according to God's will, do you know what God gives us? He gives us a blank check, a blank signed check, where we fill in the amount. If we ask according to God's will we have access to all of God's resources.
Let's think about this in terms of the unregenerate, in terms of the unsaved, in terms of unbelievers. Does God listen to them? Does God hear and answer them? Or, to put it more strongly, is He obligated to hear and answer the prayers of the lost? No, He is not obligated because they don't pray according to His will, because they can't pray according to His will. God may choose to hear and answer but He is not obligated to hear and answer. He is God, after all, and He can do whatever He wants whenever He wants to whoever He wants. If it fits His plan to answer an unbeliever, then He will answer, but He is under no obligation to do so.
This is so sad when you think about it. Because the unsaved are found in all of the world's false religions. They are even found in the church. These unsaved offer up so many prayers for family, health, children, jobs. There are prayers that go up at athletic events. There are prayers in Congress and the White House. There are prayers at political events. We even have a National Day of Prayer in which people of various faiths and religions offer up prayer. But God is under no obligation to hear or answer any of these prayers.
But, BUT, when a Christian prays in the name of Christ, and according to His will, God has obligated Himself to answer. God has promised to answer.
C In verse 16, our difficult text for this evening, John illustrates or explains this in a rather strange way:
(1 Jn 5:16) If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.
John tells us that we can and should pray for Christians who are sinning and God will hear our prayers. You can be sure of that. He wants to hear those prayers. He wants His church to be radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish; He wants His church to be holy and blameless (cf Eph 5:27). So pray for Christians caught in sin.
But don't pray for those committing the sin that leads to death. Realize that John has just laid down another condition for prayer. The first condition: we need to pray according to God's will. The second condition: we cannot pray for those who do the sin that leads to death.
Doesn't this seem like a strange condition? What does this mean? What is John saying? To answer this we need to understand the phrase, "a sin that leads to death." A sin that leads to death is willful, continuous, unrepentant sin. If someone has committed the sin leading to death, that person's eternal destiny is revealed to all. And that destiny is not eternal life; rather, it is eternal death.
John is simply saying God will answer all your prayers, all your prayers according to His will, except for one. If you are praying for someone who has committed sin leading to death, God will not listen, God does not listen. Because that person is like Pharaoh or Hitler or Stalin. Their heart has been hardened against the Lord. So your prayers for that person have no possibility of being heard and answered. God does not hear prayers for those whose sin shows they are eternally damned. About that you can also be sure.
Remember, John is talking about the certainties of the Christian faith. Certainty one: in Christ we can be certain of eternal life. Certainty two: as we wait for eternal life we can be certain God hears our prayers.
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